Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Rhotic Menace

I paused awhile in WH Smugs before boarding, as you do, furtively looking for some reading matter to see me through the time between décollage and seat-belt-sign-ping (that interminable period when the iPad is banned for fear that its malevolent radiations will bring the aircraft crashing out of the skies in a ball of fire).

Me, I do everything that BA cabin staff tell me. I don't want the bastards going on strike before they've served the dessert. It was one little humdinger of a book that I had grabbed though. I didn't put it down all the way to Newark, even though I watched two movies, got drunk, fell asleep, accidentally tripped up one of the cabin staff carrying a tray of soft drinks, and killed a bunch of snakes. At last! An author who has dared to lift the lid on the unflushed toilet of Northern English philology! "Northern English: A Cultural and Social History" by Katie Wales is a classic, and will become required reading on every English course when I'm prime minister. For too long have our proud northern tongues gone unhailed, sneered at by posh bastards in Streatham wine-bars and ignored by Americans who think us English all talk like Dick van Dyke or the Queen.

It also brought me up to speed on some of the linguist's jargon. I didn't know, for example, that dialects that sound all their 'R's are called 'Rhotic'. The English dropped all that nonsense a couple of centuries ago, apart from a few holdouts in backward places like the west country and Blackburn. Just try saying 'Blackburn' now and you'll see what I mean. Does it sound like 'Blackbrrn' or 'Blackbuhn'? If the former then you're Rhotic, you pervert.

I checked it out on the chopper into Manhattan. When the pilot chuckled "I suRe hope you'Re gonna keep a fiRm grip on that baRf-bag, good buddy. This biRd's just been regeaRed and we'Re gonna hit those theRmals oveR the East Side like a sack of rahks", I tried to confirm. "Noo then marra. What thoos sayin' is that thoo shoowah hope ah's gan tuh keep a fuhm grip on that bowk-bag cos thoos just had this spuggy fettled and we'll hit them thuhmals ovvah 'east side like a sack of clemmies. Eh?"

He gave me a funny look from over his mirroRed shades, and shrugged. "We don't get many like you on this route".

"What, like NON-RHOTICS?" I asked. "I hope you don't have a problem with that, good buddy".

"SmaRdass" he muttered under his breath and yanked the collective hard enough to make my knees water. We lifted with a lurch and just cleared the perimeter fence before skimming the waves all the way across the Hudson, narrowly missing a ferry full of Japanese tourists. Non-Rhotics to a man, all of them, I suddenly realised. I waved and they cheered back, obviously sensing the kinship potential of the unvoiced intercalary and terminal 'r's that must be radiating from me.

Ignoring my entreaties to stop at 32nd and 3rd for a McDonald's, the airborne truck-driver settled the chopper onto the United Nations helipad with a thud and looked at me expectantly.

"What!" I bellowed. "You want a fucking tip for flying like a cunt!". Outside on the lawn I could see that Ban Ki and Hillary were staring, and I was forced to hand over a handful of crumpled greenies so the bastard would let me out. I gave the skid a good kick on the way though, and ran my keys down the paintjob. Rhotic bastard!

Next week: The new Cumbrian ambassador presents his credentials. But sensitively.

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